DYNAMIC GROWTH

Kuwait 2019 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

OILSERV is an independent oilfield service company that provides world-class services to clients operating across the Middle East and North Africa.

Sara Akbar
BIOGRAPHY
Sara Akbar has over 35 years of experience in the oil and gas industry and is currently the Chairperson and CEO of OILSERV Kuwait. She is a member of the Kuwait Supreme Council for Planning and Development and an active member of the Board of Trustees of Kuwait’s Silk Territory project. Previously, she has worked for Kuwait Oil Company and Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company. In 2005, she co-founded Kuwait Energy, the first MENA-based private independent oil and gas exploration and production company. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Kuwait University.

What main challenges is Kuwait facing and how can they be addressed?

Around 90% of Kuwait's revenue comes from oil and gas, which poses a long-term risk for the country, but fortunately, the Kuwait Vision 2035 focuses on diversifying the economy. The second issue is that the government is the largest employer of Kuwaitis. This consumes over 60% of the yearly budget. In addition, every year there are 25,000 people joining the labor force. The oil sector only employs around 50,000 people as it is not a human intensive business. The solution is multi-faceted, and the first element is to change the role of government from being almost omnipotent to being a true regulator where other operations in education, energy, health, or infrastructure go to the private sector. This will enhance operational efficiency and allow many government jobs to be shifted to the private sector. Notably, the Higher Planning Council is conducting a study together with KFAS and UNDP on how to reform the government.

To what extent will the activation of the private sector help Kuwait's economy?

Kuwaitis have the ability to create businesses and flourish, and building the Kuwaiti culture of entrepreneurship and the private sector is a main target of the Vision 2035. This dynamic could be encouraged by reforming education, creating an ecosystem that encourages SMEs, and eliminating all the obstacles that prevent young Kuwaitis from creating businesses. Kuwait wants to create a diversified economy, and there are three main resources that can help to develop this: a youth with an entrepreneurial DNA, a beautiful piece of land up north with five beautiful untouched islands, and a strong foreign policy. We want to create an international economic zone that eliminates all the red tape. The plan is for this new territory to have its own law and be managed by one corporation that will lease the land for 99 years. It could become a logistic hub with a port, railroad, and airport, as well as a financial city with entertainment and environmental tourism. The plan also involves running the entire project on renewable energy.

What main steps need to be taken to ensure the development of North Kuwait?

The first step is for this law to be enacted, which is in the process of being finalized, and then it requires sanctioning by the parliament. However, we still have many challenges, including a strong regulatory environment that is detrimental to all businesses. We hope to attract investment through incentives such as tax exemption, long-term leases, and giving companies easy access to the region. Execution remains challenging though. The current system is not built on meritocracy; instead, people are parachuted into wrong positions. Therefore, solving issues related to meritocracy, efficiency, and governance will ensure the success or failure of the project. In order to realize the true potential of the project, the board of directors for the corporation will include international figures, and the CEO will be appointed based on track record and ability.

What initiatives have been taken in the public and private domains to further empower Kuwaiti women?

There are a few initiatives that are being taken, but women won't be truly empowered until they are placed in actual managerial positions. Kuwait has two women ministers and one female member of parliament, whereas Europe has 50% female representation at a government level. Until we get to that point, I do not think we can promote the cause of women. In Dubai, every company's board must have 30% women representation. We could use this quota system to push many women into decision making. This allows you to create the system and then disband it to make it free for all.